Three years ago this 20-year-old singer was living couch to couch. Now she’s a major label’s brightest hope, learning how to lead while taking care of herself.
Kehlani was born some 350 miles north of Los Angeles in a south Berkeley apartment. Her mother was on the run from the police at the time; Kehlani’s father talked her through labor over the phone. Both were addicts. Born premature Kehlani was sent to the hospital. Her mother was sent back to jail, and Kehlani did a brief stint in foster care before her mother’s sister adopted her. (Her father died when she was “one or two.”)
Growing up in north Oakland, Kehlani helped look after her aunt’s two younger children. “We lived in this little duplex until everything started breaking,” Kehlani says. “It was getting really cold, and the heater broke, and then the sink broke, then the washing machine stopped working.” Even as a child, she says she aspired to find the bright side of bad situations. But things got more complicated when her mother reentered her life—though not as her guardian.
At school, Kehlani’s talents were acknowledged. She danced se...
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